"The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" - Rick's Riding Lesson
Ozzie Nelson: Ozzie
Harriet Hilliard: Harriet
David Nelson: David
Ricky Nelson: Ricky
Subject: "Rick's Riding Lesson"
Ozzie and Harriet symbolized the ideal fantasy couple in 1950’s America and the family embodied the traditional middle-class values of this era. In this particular episode, Ozzie helps his sons with dating problems and jokes innocently with his wife. Harriet appears in full hair and makeup with an apron hanging from her shoulders, her pearl necklace impossible to ignore. Their two boys, Ricky and David, are happy go-lucky children who obey their parents and navigate their way into comical situations. It would not be considered reality television by today’s definition, but during this era it was similar to I Love Lucy in that it blurred the line between reality and fiction; portraying real families in fictional circumstances and situations.
This particular episode, entitled “Rick’s Riding Lesson,” opens with the narrator claiming that the Nelson’s are “America’s favorite family.” The opening scene effortlessly segways from being a father and son teaching moment about how to take better photographs of their dates straight into an Ozzie-led commercial for one of the show’s sponsors, Kodak. This advertisement is seamlessly blended into the show. One of the sons, Rick, signs up for horse riding lessons in order to spend more time with an attractive young female instructor. He is scolded by his mother for choosing an expensive method of spending time with girls. He later exchanges these riding lessons in order to teach the young woman, Judy, to play the guitar. As with many sitcoms, any master plan must be threatened with obstacles and untimely reveals.
Judy spots Rick riding horse like a skilled athlete and realizes his deception, refusing to speak to him again. Meanwhile, Harriet keeps dropping hints to Ozzie that she would like to be taken on a romantic hayride date night. Ozzie, understanding what she is implying, jokingly continues to rattle off all the features of David’s upcoming date night. Rick heroically hops on a horse to go and find Judy in the dark, guitar hanging from his shoulder. He successfully locates her and serenades her on a hayride as his apology for being dishonest. As it turns out, Judy was faking an inability to play guitar just as Rick pretended to not be able to ride horses.
All of a sudden, the entire cast, and town, seemingly appears at this bonfire where they take turns singing a song, clapping and foot tapping included. The final scene shows Ozzie putting the pieces together on a memory of teaching his wife to ice skate, realizing she knew how to all along due to her Iowa upbringing in which she lived behind a lake. The second commercial sponsor, Aunt Jemima, makes an appearance just prior to the credits rolling. A Harriet-led commercial for Aunt Jemima buttermilk pancake mix blurs the line between the show and advertising. Harriet Nelson was a seemingly ideal American mother and housewife, and this advertisement plays on those beliefs and perceptions. The ending credits reveals the show was also produced and directed by Ozzie Nelson himself.
The show does not appear to have taken on hard-pressing or hot-button social issues; dealing with the daily trivialities of middle class life and leisure. The family presents itself as being very happy and together; a rare sight to see across the large variety of programming today. The family unit is central and integral to the plot and premise. It is reminiscent of an era with homemakers, home cooked meals served at the dinner table, and the absence of overt vulgarities and sexualization plastered onto television screens. At its core it was a lighthearted family show meant to be enjoyed by a family from the comfort of their cozy living room in the suburbs. Unlike many other sitcoms and television programs of the era, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was filmed both on a sound stage and out in various places around California, helping to bring in a hint of realism to the landscape.
In terms of production, the program was very simple. The staging was made to look exactly like a home you would find in the American suburbs. The costumes and makeup provide a natural look to go along with the family’s middle-class status. In terms of camera work, the camera itself does not get too close to the focal point of the scene, allowing the viewer to observe the background setting. The camerawork allowed the viewers at home to feel as though they are eavesdropping on a family conversation. Music is effortlessly incorporated into the show through the performances by their son. Graphics are utilized in the opening title sequence as the narrator announces the cast members. As with most television programs of this era, the film is presented in black and white.
The time frame in which it aired spanned quite a large variety of cultural events and the evolution of television as a major player in the media scope. As the 1950’s appeared in the rearview mirror and the changing family values and attitudes of the 1960’s arrived, the sitcom become symbolic of an era that had been replaced. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was a pure 1950’s family sitcom full of harmless antics and the veil of a perfect middle class American family. Perhaps the very fact that it featured a “real life” family gave an unattainable impression to other Americans in that this was exactly the way their lives were, with sticky situations resolved in under an hour, family dynamics eternally splendid, and homemade chocolate chip cookies waiting for you on the kitchen table.
Subject: Season 7, Episode 8
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